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In a limited role, McGuire can provide a big impact

The White Sox finally have found a reliable backup catcher.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Detroit Tigers
Reese McGuire provided a defensive boost, as the South Siders held Detroit to one run on Sunday.
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

This past weekend between Josh Harrison’s extra-base hits, twirling throws in the field and revving imaginary motorcycles; to Bennett Sousa becoming everybody’s favorite new relief pitcher; and Tanner Banks finally breaking into the majors at 30 years old, there was plenty of production from new faces on the South Side.

That’s not to mention the old cast of Luis Robert obliterating baseballs every at-bat, Tim Anderson’s emphatic return to the lineup or the continued progression of Andrew Vaughn, which our Trevor Lines expertly detailed a smart strategy of getting him into the lineup (seriously, read it!).

Yet, on Sunday, as the White Sox’s All-Star catcher sat in the dugout and everyone fixated on the flamethrowing Michael Kopech, it was Reese McGuire who showed why GM Rick Hahn’s last-second trade is worth more than the jokes on Twitter whenever he plays. It only took a couple of innings before it became clear his upgrade over Zack Collins as Yasmani Grandal’s backup.

Teams went a perfect 10-for-10 on stolen base attempts against Kopech last season. Not this year.

Austin Meadows’ career 23 stolen bases doesn’t necessarily qualify him as Rickey Henderson 2.0, but between the pick and on-the-money throw, McGuire provided one of the most impressive plays of the weekend. It’s fitting that even in an 0-for-4 debut at the plate, he showed why the White Sox traded a former first-round pick for him.

McGuire (a former Top 100 prospect) is a career backup, but still brings value due to his defense. After watching subpar defense from Collins and Seby Zavala last season — even Grandal had an uncomfortable amount of catcher-interference calls — it’s a luxury to have someone to plug behind the plate every couple of days to give Grandal’s legs a break and know the pitching staff won’t suffer.

In 2021, McGuire ranked 11th in baseball in catcher framing runs (4), a metric that converts strikes to runs saved, and threw out 35% of runners trying to steal. Only Tomás Nido saved more runs in fewer pitches. In comparison, Zack Collins recorded -10 catcher framing runs — only Kansas City’s Salvador Perez finished with a worse mark among 60 qualified catchers — and threw out 17% of base stealers.

McGuire’s framing and strong arm alone puts him a notch better than the defensive-liability Collins. It’s where McGuire will surely make the biggest impact, and why it’s easier to overlook his struggles at the plate the past two seasons. Besides, when compared to the White Sox’s backup situation last season, it’s not much different.

There’s a real chance that McGuire’s .297/.343/.539 slash line that included seven home runs and 15 RBIs in his first 44 career games won’t resurface. The Blue Jays certainly didn’t believe it would. His ZIPS projection sits at .236/.290/.362 with six home runs, which while not great would still see his .652 OPS be an upgrade over Zavala (.616) and essentially on par with Collins (.669) at the plate. The difference is any offense would be a bonus for McGuire — whereas offense is what the White Sox were banking on when they drafted Collins.

It was also nice to see McGuire hustle from first base to score on Danny Mendick’s first-inning double on Sunday, which capitalized on McGuire reaching on an error.

Besides, the White Sox don’t need McGuire to push Grandal for playing time. A second coming of James McCann would also be welcome, but for now a backup catcher who brings out the best of the pitching staff and is serviceable at the plate at the bottom of an otherwise loaded lineup, when healthy, is more than the South Side has been used to in past years. That still can qualify as a very useful player.